It’s happened to all of us: we touch documents or things that have been stored for a while, and the sneezing and runny nose start right away. These allergic reactions are a response from your immune system to substances that aren’t usually harmful, but which irritate you.

Did you know…?

  • Allergies are commonplace, and both your genes and the environment play a major role in them.
  • If both of your parents have allergies, there is a good chance you have them too.
  • Our immune system protects our bodies from harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses.
  • When your immune system recognizes an allergen, it releases a response (histamine) that is manifested by causing discomfort, inflammation, and irritation.

The following are the most common allergens. Have you ever had an allergic reaction to any of them?

  • Medications
  • Dust
  • Food
  • Insect venom
  • Mold
  • Dander from your pets and other animals
  • Pollen
  • Hot or cold temperatures
  • Sunlight, and other environmental triggers
  • Friction (a scratch or hard bump on the skin)

Symptoms will depend on the body part the allergen comes in contact with.  For instance:

If it’s an allergen that…It will cause…
Is inhaledNasal congestion, itchy throat and nose, mucus production, coughing and wheezing
Comes in contact with your eyesItchy, watery, red, and swollen eyes
Comes in contact with your skinSkin rash, hives, itching, blisters, and peeling skin
Is food-borneNausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction
Is ingested through medicationsThey compromise the entire body and can lead to a variety of symptoms

How can I know if I’m allergic?

Since not every reaction is an allergy, you need to get tested.  Sometimes, consuming contaminated food (food poisoning) can cause symptoms similar to food allergies. Some medications (like aspirin and ampicillin) can cause non-allergic reactions, including skin rash.

There are different tests to determine whether you’re allergic.  The most common are skin tests.

  • Skin prick test/Intradermal test: the substance suspected of causing the allergy is introduced under the skin, then you wait 15 minutes to see if it causes any reactions, such as swelling or redness.
  • Patch test: a patch with the suspected allergen is placed on the skin, then the skin is closely monitored for signs of a reaction. You may usually wait 48 to 72 hours to see a reaction.
  • Immunoglobulin E (IgE): blood test that measures the levels of substances related to allergies.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): count of eosinophils (white blood cells or leukocytes that play an important role in the body’s response to allergic reactions).

What are my treatment options if I have allergies?

First line, daily use:

  • Antihistamines: they block the effect of histamines
  • Decongestants: they relieve nasal congestion. Do not use decongestant nasal sprays long-term, as they can cause a rebound effect and make the congestion worse. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, or an enlarged prostate must be cautious when using decongestants.
  • Leukotriene inhibitors: they block the substances that cause allergies. Recommended for people with asthma and indoor/outdoor allergies.

In the long term, if the initial treatment was ineffective:

  • Corticosteroids: anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Anti-allergic vaccines (immunotherapy): they keep the body from overreacting to the allergen. These vaccines don’t work for everyone and require visiting your doctor frequently.
  • Sublingual immunotherapy (placed under the tongue): for allergies to grass, ragweed, and dust mites; they help more than the vaccines.

Emergency use:

  • Epinephrine: treatment required for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). It could save a person’s life if administered immediately. After using it, you must call 911 or go to the hospital right away.

Have you ever had those annoying nose irritation symptoms?

You may have a nonallergic rhinopathy, also known as idiopathic rhinitis, nonallergic rhinitis, vasomotor rhinitis, or irritant rhinitis.  This condition includes runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion.

But if it’s not an allergy, what is causing it?

The specific cause is unknown, but the symptoms grow worse when something irritates your nose, such as:

  • Dry environments
  • Air pollution
  • Alcohol
  • Certain medications
  • Seasoned foods, and in some cases, when eating in general
  • Strong emotions
  • Intense odors, such as perfumes and cleaning products (especially chlorine bleach)

The symptoms are very much like those of allergies or the common cold:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Wheezing
  • Watery nasal discharge

Visit your primary care physician. They will recommend the steps to follow to rule out allergies. Once this is ruled out, the main treatment is simply avoiding the factors causing the symptoms. Corticosteroid nasal sprays can help some forms of nonallergic rhinopathy, but you should consult your physician first before using them.